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Daschle: 'I think we are changed forever'

Sen. Tom Daschle
Sen. Tom Daschle  


(CNN) -- Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, spoke to CNN Friday about President George W. Bush's address to a joint meeting of Congress the night before.

CNN: We have had 10 days now of horrific pictures, the rescue and recovery effort, the president trying to rally the nation last night in a speech to Congress and the American people. Your thoughts, sir, just on the gravity of the moment.

DASCHLE: Well, I don't know that I've ever witnessed one anywhere near the magnitude of what we saw and witnessed and experienced last night. I think the president rose to the occasion. He pulled us together. He talked about unity. He did so with a passion and a real strength that this country was looking for.

CNN: He also, senator, though, set a very high bar here for this coming war on terrorism, as he called it. An ultimatum to the Taliban in Afghanistan, immediately turn over Osama bin Laden. But also a much more broader picture, the president saying any nation that does not stand with the United States will be considered a hostile nation.

Is there the stomach in the Congress and do you believe in the American public for a military campaign that could, say, include targets in Lebanon, terrorist camps there, perhaps in Baghdad, as well?

DASCHLE: Well, I think the president warned us last night that this was not going to be easy nor was it going to be short and we have to take this one step at a time. We have to make our decisions with the recognition that this is going to be a very, very difficult chapter for all of Americans.

I think that the Congress recognizes that and we're prepared to support the efforts of this president and the efforts of our country as we try to take whatever initiatives may be required to win this war.

CNN: The president also announced a new Cabinet-level position, sir. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge will become the director of the new Office of Homeland Security. In some ways is this not an admission that in the past the U.S. government and its various agencies have not done a good enough job of coordinating with themselves?

DASCHLE: I think that's true. I don't know that we've ever considered this to be nearly the kind of threat that it obviously is now. And as that threat has presented itself, we know we have to reorganize the government in a way to be far more responsive, far more effective in preventing the kinds of attacks we saw last week.

That's exactly what I think this new secretary will be charged with the responsibility to do and I think from all that I know of Gov. Ridge, he's up to the task.

CNN: The president said he wanted Americans to go about their daily routines but he also said that he hoped perhaps weeks or months or years from now the country would get back to "almost normal." Are we forever changed here?

DASCHLE: I think we are forever changed. You can't go to New York and not realize that that will leave an indelible mark not only on the city but on the country. We'll all remember September 11. We'll all remember these days. And I think as we do, we have to change the way we conduct our lives. We know we're going to have to do things in airlines and across the country in ways to combat terrorism that we didn't even consider just 10 days ago.

CNN: As the country listened to the president last night, the Congress also acting on his request and the concerns in the Congress that more be done quickly to help the airline industry, which obviously is struggling right now. We understand a deal was reached on this late last night. Will that be passed today in the House and the Senate?

DASCHLE: Well, all four leaders are going to be presenting what we will recommend as a way to respond to our caucuses this morning. Depending on what kind of response we get from our caucuses, we'll be in a better position to make some decision about whether we can pass it and send it off to the president quickly.

It involves direct assistance, about $5 billion. It involves loan guarantees, about $10 billion. And it provides for liability protection for the airlines and direct assistance to all of the victims of the tragedy of September 11.






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